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Bringing MLS to Portland is no sure thing


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MLS in Portland in holding pattern

Timbers owner Merritt Paulson says bringing Major League Soccer to the city is no sure thing

Saturday, July 26, 2008


The Oregonian Staff

Merritt Paulson has a favorite city in the race to land a Major League Soccer franchise.

Understandably, it's Portland. After all, he's owner and president of the Timbers, who play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division.

Paulson would love to see Portland chosen for one of two new MLS franchises that will be selected to begin play in 2011.

But he's a realist.

"As much as I think Portland is the best option," Paulson said, "and MLS knows that it is a great market, it's not a foregone conclusion here." The reality, he said, is there "really is going to be limited expansion, and there are a lot of (cities)."

Paulson was referring to the official MLS announcement Thursday, after a board of governors meeting in Toronto before the league's All-Star game, that Portland is one of eight cities in the United States and Canada in the running for the two franchises that will be awarded for 2011.

The others are Atlanta, Las Vegas, Montreal, a second team for New York, St. Louis, Ottawa and Vancouver, B.C.

The MLS has 14 teams, with Seattle becoming the 15th next season and Philadelphia joining in 2010.

Paulson agreed with MLS commissioner Don Garber, who called St. Louis a "strong candidate." There's a focus to get another MLS team in the Midwest, Paulson said. "So, if I'm an oddsmaker, I say St. Louis has a pretty good shot for 2011."

The 35-year-old Timbers boss also said the fact that the MLS All-Star game was held in Toronto creates "a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz" about the possibility that Canada could land a franchise.

"Certainly, there's the fan base there," Paulson said.

The MLS expansion announcement did not catch Paulson by surprise.

"We've known this for quite some time," he said. "I've got a pretty regular dialogue with these (MLS) guys."

He continues to work with city officials to "pull together the various pieces" needed to lure MLS to Portland, he said.

"A lot of work is being done, a lot of effort is being made," specifically the financing for improvements that would bring the city-owned PGE Park to MLS standards.

Paulson, who also owns the Triple A Portland Beavers baseball team, said "there is a lot going on with that piece of the puzzle." The Beavers would need a new ballpark because MLS wants its teams to play in stadiums designated for soccer. So the Beavers would have to vacate PGE Park.

It's not the right time to talk about the various details of the proposals just yet, he said.

"I'm not keeping secrets. The more we get into it, it makes more sense to have it completely fleshed out when we unveil it."

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